Hairspray – Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Book: Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan.

Music: Marc Shaiman.

Lyrics: Scott Whittman and Marc Shaiman

Director: Paul Kerryson

Welcome to a Baltimore that isn’t Tom Cruise being greedy with local pan-Asian generic cuisine. It’s 1962 and everything is bobby-sox, bubble-gum and just-so High School swell. No chill winds of Cuban Missiles passing over the cloudless skies, the fuse of the Civil Rights Movement has yet to be lit by angry, trembling hands.

Calorie-challenged, ‘girth with the mirth’, impossibly vivacious, popsicle-protagonist, teenage Tracy Turnblad, a pivotal presence from Katie Brace, has the hots for TV Show star Link Larkin on the aptly named Corny Collins Show. Given that 99% of the near sell-out audience is virtually lip-syncing to the songs they’re way ahead of the band and cast. Hairspray is a deeply embedded brand within a brand.

Further, it is abundantly clear that Director, Paul Kerryson, has given free licence to the ensemble cast to make complete aerosols of themselves. Drew McOnie’s choreographic vision drives excellent synchronicity with Ben Atkinson’s live band’s, damnably pitch-perfect musicianship direction. They move with the groove as the mood subtly begins to assimilate and appropriate, “Those Coloureds’ music.” In that respect, recordshop owner maitre d’ Moutermouth Maybelle,outrageously possessed by Brenda Edwards, brings the show to a gospel anthemic supercharged climax.

It would be churlish to indulge in contrived coiffure/salon-based innuendo drawing on the eponymous show’s celebrated Box Office buster title. Perms & Conditioners apply. This production is near faultless in technical design and visual articulation. Lighting Designer, Philp Gladwell’s light-sabre strokes augment the cheeky-chic costumes (Takis/Caroline Hannam) during the naughtily contrived Jailhouse Rock homage with visionary brilliance. This is Industrial Light & Magiclevel wizardry.

Plot thin, song-drenched set-piece predictable silly, Hairspray is an ephemeral, fairy-tale fantasia guilty pleasure. Press the nozzle button and the perfumed-spray genie escapes, rewarding every escapist wish imaginable – its primary objective and guaranteeing longevity’s success.

But there’s something decidedly quiffy iffy juxtaposing the emerging Civil Rights Movement protests with the love-interest motif of the black Romeo aka Seeweed (Akeem Ellis-Hyman) climbing the vines and rescuing the white Juliet, aka the frankly slightly psycho, hormone typhoon, Penny Pingleton, played with gangly obsession by Rebecca-Jayne Davies. A little context exposition would have been handy here: her mother has just tied her daughter, said Penny, to a crucifix adorned bed with ship’s hawser grade ropes! Best move on.

The post-climax duet song-shuffle between the statuesque, spangled presence of Edna (Alex Bourne – no don’t ask, these days it a gender minefield well worth avoiding) and Wilbur (Norman Pace) has a less than subtle breasts ‘n bums fondle innuendo homage to Underneath The Arches meets Yes, I Remember It Well –perhaps for the old’uns, at least. And keep a very keen eye out for that young Akeem Ellis-Hyman, his hipsway, panther-subtle style defines a new sophistication move-cool. Hairspray is here to stay – toupee or not toupee? That’s a no-way! Time to let your hair down.

Runs until 2 October 2012 and touring

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